Mitigating Ego Depletion

From the paper in the previous post:

When people expect to have to exert self-control later, they will curtail current performance more severely than if no such demands are anticipated.


Consistent with the conservation hypothesis, people can exert self-control despite ego depletion if the stakes are high enough. Offering cash incentives or other motives for good performance counteracts the effects of ego depletion.

I also expressed skepticism that experimental subjects were really motivated.

Inducing a state of positive emotion such as humor seems to have that effect [moderating or counteracting the effects of ego depletion] (Tice, Baumeister, Shmueli, & Muraven, 2007). Having implementation intentions — formulating ‘‘if–then’’ statements about how to behave in a situation prior to entering it — seems to be effective most likely because such intentions operate as behavioral plans and guidelines that reduce the need for executive control (Webb & Sheeran, 2003). To be sure, none of these procedures clearly counteracts the depleted state in the sense of replenishing the depleted resource. Rather, they may all operate by inducing the person to expend more of the depleted resource. In contrast, there is some reason to think that replenishing glucose in the bloodstream does actually rectify the depletion by restoring the depleted resource (Gailliot et al., 2007).

Having a comprehensive plan in place means you don’t have to decide anything. Does making such a plan cost as much as making a decision in real time?

Logical reasoning, extrapolation, and other controlled processes depend on control by the self, and performance on these tasks dips sharply when people are depleted (Schmeichel, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2003).

I wonder what types of items generally used to measure IQ (“G”) don’t ego-deplete.

Recent studies indicate that the same energy is used for effortful decision making, as well as for active rather than passive responses (e.g., Vohs et al., 2007).  These seem to correspond to what laypersons understand as ‘‘free will,’’ namely the ability to override impulses, behave morally, show initiative, and behave according to rational choices (Baumeister, in press).

If I remember this research, contemplating the decision (e.g. imagining consequences) isn’t depleting; making it is.

Success at building self-control through exercises has been inconsistent.


Identifying the biological substrates of self-control depletion (and replenishment) would be another helpful direction for further work.

I mentioned this earlier.